Flight Sgt Norman Austin Bolitho 1601281 RAFVR
Having joined the RAF sometime between late 1941 and mid 1942 through Oxford, by late October 1942 Norman Bolitho was posted as a trainee to No 1 Signals School, RAF Cranwell. There he qualified as a Wireless Operator (Air) in November 1942.
In early January 1943 he had crossed the Atlantic to Canada, for training at 33 Air Navigation School, RAF Mount Hope, Ontario. There he qualified as Navigator/Wireless in April before proceeding to 31 General Reconnaissance School at Charlotte Town, Prince Edward Island.
By August 1943 Sgt Bolitho was back in the UK, undertaking further training at No 3 School of General Reconnaissance at Squires Gate near Blackpool, before moving on to 9 (Coastal) OTU at Crosby on Eden. There he teamed up with Sgt WA Williams 1235518 as his pilot, before passing out on 24 October 1943 after some 60 hours flying time (of a total of over 200 hours flown in service). The laconic “Average” assessments for navigation and wireless training were leavened with an “Above average” for photography and a little additional encouragement in a general note: “Has done some very good work”.
Overseas posting also brought the opportunity of ferrying aircraft out by the long route through the Middle East. For Sgts Williams and Bolitho, this meant successive postings to the Overseas Aircraft Dispatch Unit at Llandow to pick up a new Beaufighter and then to 304 Ferry Training Unit at Port Ellen.
On 5 December 1943 all was at last ready. From Port Ellen in another new machine, Beaufighter LZ534, they staged through Portreath for the long leg to Rabat in Morocco and so on across North Africa, stage by stage to reach Cairo West on 14 December. After a few days rest, they set off again via Habbaniya, Bahrein, and Sharjah to reach Karachi on 21 December 1943.
For a month or so, they were stuck at ATP Poona before the system carted them across India, to reach Ranchi in March 1944, where the pair trained in low level rocket attack at SLAIS before finally joining 211 Squadron on 3 April 1944. After a little time spent on local flights to get the lay of the land, by 17 April Bolitho was on operations, with his pilot Bill Williams now F/Sgt, in Beaufighter X NE324 ‘X’. Sadly, another new crew did not return from this operation to Andrew Bay: Sgts Chambers and Lovell in LZ383 ‘N’.
As F/O ‘B’ Flight, Mal Haakenson signed off Bolitho’s first month of Log Book entries with the Squadron. After becoming ill with amoebic dysentery in May, Bolitho was off operations until mid June 1944. Resuming duty, by 3 July he and Bill Williams had completed 10 ops together.
Possibly ill again, over the weeks from mid-July to early November 1944, Norman Bolitho flew only once on operations, in the back seat to CO W/Cdr PE Meagher DFC: an abortive morning sortie, turning back after 45 mins with electrical failure and not recorded in Norman’s Log. Thereafter he flew non-operationally as passenger with other Squadron pilots, en route to Calcutta or Chittagong and return.
During this time, misfortune struck: on 27 July 1944, F/Sgt William Anthony Williams failed to return from an afternoon sweep with F/Sgt Robert Gollop in NE488 ‘W’.
The Lancashire Evening Post 2 May 1955 (Barrass family)
With his Navigator off operations, Bill Williams had crewed up with Bob Gollop from early May. Both men were from Wigan in Lancashire. From 4 May to 5 June, the pair flew 11 sorties together. Apart from any operational losses, leave or illness meant that shortish changes of crewing were not unusual, especially when the tempo of operations was brisk.
In W/Cdr PE “Pat” Meagher, the Squadron had another CO, of some dash, who they held in high regard. Meagher had often flown with F/O Jack Woodall in the back seat from January to until the loss of Waddell and Woodall on 27 March. In April and May, he had taken F/Sgt Gollop under his wing for four ops. A further seven followed between 28 June and 23 July—a real confidence boost for Bob Gollop, in all likelihood.
By late July Williams and Gollop had plenty of operational experience. On 27 July 1944 they flew their 12th sortie together. Skill and mateship regardless, their luck had now run out. In somewhat indifferent afternoon weather, flying in NE488 ‘W’ they were not seen after take off by their “fluid pair” companions, Birch and Carter in ‘B’. Nothing further was heard from Williams and Gollop and they were posted missing.
In 1955 the families were informed that an MRES officer inquiring into missing aircraft crew in Buma had been able, with help from local people of Thamadaw on the Mandalay Maymyo Road, to find the remains of the pair. Recovered, they lie in a joint grave of the Taukkyan War Cemetery.
In November, F/Sgt Bolitho resumed operational flying, with a further 5 sorties. All of these were flown with F/O EL Wood, now OC ‘A’ Flight. On one occasion, they returned quickly when LZ343 let them down just 10 minutes into the sortie, taking off again 40 minutes later in NE321 ‘L’ to return in the dark some 4hrs 20min later.
Their last op together, and Bolitho’s last with 211 Squadron, came on 26 November 1944. He had by then accumulated some 370 flying hours, some 53 of them on operations with 211 Squadron.
Bolitho’s commission as Pilot Officer, gazetted in March 1945, was effective from 30 November 1944. A week later, he was posted to 177 Squadron, one of the other Beaufighter units in the India/Burma theatre.
Ops: Failed to Return
26 April 1945 177 Squadron: Beaufighter RD376 W/Cdr GR Nottage, P/O NA “Hector” Bolitho
In poor weather, attacking alternate targets of opportunity in the Moulmein area, their Beaufighter was shot up while attacking water-craft. With no oil pressure, the Starboard engine seized, propeller unfeatherable.
W/Cdr Nottage, the Squadron’s CO, had no choice but to forced-land. He put the aircraft down safely on the coastal plain North of Moulmein. Nottage and Bolitho’s own accounts of their forced landing, their journey on foot to reach a friendly intruder force “behind the lines” and eventual evacuation to safety by air on 26 May were recorded by Sutherland Brown in Silently Into the Midst of Things. Graham Pitchfork recounted their successful evasion in more summary form, with a terrific photograph taken on return, in Shot Down and On The Run. The Order of the Golden Boot, in spades.
In July 1945 with 177 Squadron, Norman Austin Bolitho completed his operational tour a Flying Officer with 26 sorties in all, in a total of 180hrs operational flying, for which he was later awarded the DFC.
Posted to E Group, his flying continued in a variety of aircraft, mainly as 2nd Navigator in Douglas Dakota and Beechcraft Expediter flights around the SEAC theatre. At the end of November 1945 he was in Singapore, possibly being repatriated to the United Kingdom. His service flying by then amounted to a grand total of 580hrs, at which point formal Log Book entries cease.
From the late 1960s into the early 1990s Norman travelled on a great many commercial flights, around Europe and to the United States, which he chose to record in his RAF Flying Log Book. That record of war service is kept today by the RAF Museum, Hendon, to whom I am grateful for providing a copy.
211 Squadron Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1303, Sortie Report AIR 27/1308
Barrass family correspondence (Williams)
Carter family correspondence (Carter, Meagher)
Bolitho NA RAF Observer’s & Air Gunner’s Flying Log Book (RAF Museum MF1011/31)
HMSO London Gazette 1945 issues
Pitchfork G Shot Down and On The Run (Dundurn 2003)
Sutherland Brown A Silently Into the Midst of Things (Trafford 2001)
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